Practice Traffic Stops Help Prepare Those With IDD
FREDERICK, Md. — Red and blue lights flashed, a siren wailed and the police officer approached a vehicle.
But what looked like a normal traffic stop outside Oakdale High School on a recent Thursday was actually an exercise between police and a nonprofit.
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Pathfinders for Autism to offer practice traffic stops to drivers and passengers with developmental disabilities.
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“If you don’t know what to expect, that can be incredibly anxiety provoking,” Pathfinders program director Shelly McLaughlin said.
To address this, the nonprofit last year started a practice traffic stop program and piloted it with police agencies in Montgomery and Baltimore counties, according to McLaughlin. It went well, so McLaughlin said Pathfinders reached out to Frederick County Sheriff’s Office to see if it would join.
Pathfinders has worked with FCSO in the past to teach in-service classes on how to understand people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Roughly 22 people came out to practice traffic stops in the Oakdale parking lot, according to McLaughlin. Among the deputies were school resource officers, according to Lt. Brian Woodward.
Deputies “pulled over” participants and went through the typical steps of a traffic stop, said Woodward, who helped run the event. Afterward, deputies explained their actions, answered questions and offered tips to the participants. Woodward said the firsthand experience is helpful for deputies, too.
Pathfinders gave participants envelopes containing tips to help people with developmental disabilities. The tips spelled out what steps to take during a traffic stop.
Each envelope also contained a card for emergency contacts and a statement to show the officer, explaining their disability. Volunteers secured traffic stop instructions to participants’ vehicles with visor clips.
A traffic stop webinar is available through Pathfinders’ website.
Pathfinders deputy director Trish Kane, whose son Eric has autism, said the practice traffic stops are valuable to parents, too. In addition to events like this one, Kane said, Pathfinders provides a resource center and training opportunities.
Adamstown resident Simon Mullarkey, 23, came to the event to get more comfortable with law enforcement.
“I learned what it is to get pulled over by police,” he said. “It made me learn a little … (and) not to get nervous.”
Mullarkey said police stopped him twice before — once when he did not know to change lanes to make room for a police car and another time for having blue headlights. After the recent exercise, he said he feels more prepared, should he encounter police again.
Deputy Jesse Patterson worked with Mullarkey in the practice stop. He showed him the inside of the police car afterward.
Patterson volunteered for the event, hoping to get more experience. He said the interaction can help normalize police and make traffic stops less scary.
“It’s nice to put this in real-world practice,” Patterson said. “I just think it’s an awesome program.”
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